Author: Jean Thompson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7588-0

Click Here To Purchase The Year We Left Home: A Novel

“Home,” quips a character in Jean Thompson’s riveting  new book, ,” is the place where, when you show up, they have to take you in.”  But  it means far more in Thomspon’s  incisive  examination of  the terrain- at once  treacherous and  nurturing – we must negotiate  in our search for identity and a sense of place. Limned by the glare of three tumultuous decades of history , her nuanced character portraits become an examination of identity, belonging and, most of all, being American.  ‘The Year We Left Home’ manages to be both epic and intimate at once, as the small struggles of its characters force us to reflect on the larger events unfolding in the background -the Vietnam war, the farm crisis of the ‘80s, the rise- and subsequent fall -of the behemoth called Information technology, the  war with Iraq .

For the extended Erickson family,  home is alternately the holding cell they cannot wait to break free from, and the comforting presence of the familiar that they will finally  gravitate toward .   For some, like Anita, home is the pretense of a happy marriage that she must maintain in her quest to hang onto the picture- perfect  life she had hoped to have. For others  like Torrie the family rebel, a Bob Dylan devotee in a family of strict Lutherans, home becomes the prison she must endure after a willful act of rebellion leaves her with severe disfigurement and brain impairment. Their brother Ryan, the first to leave
home,  goes from restless teenager to ponytailed hippy, to reckless graduate student, before finding his professional niche (though never an emotional one). Chip, family black sheep and survivor of ‘Nam , spends his life gravitating from one place to the next,  unable to shake off the trauma of the war, and unwilling to put down roots anywhere . 

Thompson seems to have little patience with people wearing their cultural identity like a hair shirt . She is stern in her portrayal of  Megan O’Brien , a Korean-American teen whose whiny self indulgence gets Ryan expelled from college. Nor is she particularly indulgent of Elton, a Native American photographer, who chafes against ..”the unease of a life lived outside of categories, boundaries, and ready-made narratives…. myself made strange to myself… (in).. a country that too often has seemed to belong to everybody except me.” Chip' s acerbic retort to this artistic angst speaks volumes -  "Whine much, guy?"

Thompson paints a bleak picture; her characters, mirroring the turmoil around them, struggle to find themselves.  “You think a country can’t die off just like a flesh-and-blood creature”, the Erickson family patriarch asks, as he laments the death of the America he knew and helped build. “Hard work, sacrifice, discipline – who cares about that any more?”

And yet, Thompson is also an optimist for, by the end, even with the Iraq war waiting in the wings, she curves the trajectory of her characters’ lives up towards the glimmer of hope. Torrie recoups to find not only a life and love, but an extraordinary artistic sensibility.  Anita goes back to school and channelizes her inner bully into a successful life in realty. Chip surprises himself by turning businessman, putting down roots of a kind, even playing unlikely Cupid. Ryan returns home to catalyze the renewal, not just of his town but several of his siblings’ lives as well.  But clearly it is the American spirit Thompson refers to, as she concludes, “They built this sucker to last, those old timers.”

Click Here To Purchase The Year We Left Home: A Novel